Risking Aggression: Reply to Block

By Borer, Kris | Libertarian Papers, January 2010 | Go to article overview

Risking Aggression: Reply to Block


Borer, Kris, Libertarian Papers


Walter Block is a radical anarchist. He is a libertarian extremist. The government probably spends oodles of flat currency investigating, monitoring and keeping detailed records of Block's activities. More is undoubtedly spent each year in order to produce propaganda to counter his promotion of Austrian economics. A "narrow" (1) interpretation of the nonaggression principle (NAP) might lead libertarians to think that there is no reason for them to physically attack Block. However, not only could there be a reason, it might be a good thing to do. Heroic even. For Block's activities provoke the State into a frenzy of taxation and oppression. If someone were to bully Block into retirement, all of that might be eliminated. It might also prevent a doomsday scenario in which the state becomes so desperate for legitimacy that it starts a war in which everyone dies.

in a recent article, Walter Block extols the virtues of violating the nonaggression principle. (2) He describes several situations in which it appears that a libertarian should violate property rights. To resolve Block's dilemma, we must see how the NAP relates to the entrepreneurial component of human action. We must also examine how the NAP applies when an individual influences government policy. Then, examining these situations more closely, we shall see that they do not describe any convincing exceptions to the optimality of the deontological libertarianism with respect to utilitarianism. Furthermore, we shall see that the closer approximation of libertarianism that Block is searching for is merely a more careful application of the NAP itself. (3)

I. Non-Aggression Principle

First it must be clarified what the NAP is and implies. The NAP states that property should be used in accordance with the owner's preferences. (4) The NAP is mute on how it is used and who uses it. Therefore, on choices between any two voluntary (5) human associations, a libertarian may choose either. The better choice is determined solely by the preferences of the property owners. (6) The NAP only implies that in a choice between voluntary and non-voluntary interaction, a libertarian must choose the former. (7) What must not be overlooked is that the NAP is also mute on choices between any two involuntary interactions. Both are forbidden to the perpetrator, but both are also equally available options to the victim. No involuntary association is necessarily better or worse than another. That can only be decided by the victim. (8)

Consider the example where an individual must choose between shooting a Coke machine and saving the world. The NAP implies that shooting the Coke machine is appropriate only if that is what the owner wants. If the owner wants to save the world, then he will also want his Coke machine to be shot. Shooting the Coke machine then is not a violation of the NAP (9) and maximizes utility. (10) However, if the owner prefers not having his Coke machine shot over saving the world, then shooting the Coke machine violates the NAP and does not maximize utility. (11)

Is it actually good to shoot the Coke machine in the latter situation? (12) If it is, and the owner is present to enforce his property rights, it might be necessary to push him out of the way. This is to save the world, after all. If the owner resists sufficiently, it might be necessary to kill him and all of those "narrow" minded libertarians who are wont to say, 'I disagree with your decision, but I defend to the death your right to make it.' Sadly, it might be necessary to kill every other individual in order to save the world. Better that one person live than for everyone to perish (or something like that). (13)

II. Entrepreneurship in Human Action

A libertarian strives to follow the NAP and will not perform an action if he believes that it will violate property rights. On the other hand, he feels free to take any action that will not violate property rights. …

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